Shackup (left) and Howie Lee (right) are two young turks on the Beijing DJ scene. They play a bunch of different styles broadly classified as "that future shit": UK bass, underground dubstep, new grime, juke, Jersey club, the sounds light sabers make when they're swooshing through the air with a heavy sub-bass pulses beneath them, etc. Both picked up on the sub-culture in the UK — Shackup while in high school in Nottingham, Howie while doing his Master's in sound art in London — and have since then been in the unique position of importing Western club culture from within the framework of being more or less native Beijingers. Both are names to watch.
Shackup plays Arkham this Saturday night for 1LoveShanghai's first "Who Dat" party, a new monthly series that showcases Chinese underground producers and DJs from other cities. So we figured this was a good time to republish this interview SmartBeijing did back in July while loaded up on some gin and tonics. Enjoy:
Howie Lee: I'm Howie Lee. I'm from Beijing. Well, I wasn't born in Beijing, I moved to Beijing when I was three. So basically I consider myself to be from Beijing.
Shackup: I wasn't born in Beijing either… My parents are from a small village in Shandong, I moved to Beijing when I was 2 years old.
Shackup: My dad works in a construction company. Before I was 21, my mom didn't have a job.
Howie: My mom works in a bank, she's a manager. My dad is retired, he used to work in the army, in an army hospital.
Howie: Yeah we have a good relationship… Music, not that much. They do listen to it a little bit. Four or five years ago they listened to it, but now they're kind of tired. I was playing in a rock band before, so it was alright, like 9pm I played and they could come and see. But now I play at fucking 2am. They used to come [to my shows], I don't think they really liked it…
Howie: Like punk… pop punk. Really shitty, cheesy pop punk. I did that when I was 18-22. But then I quit the band and started Howie Lee, this dance music project. So basically after that I just do everything on my own.
Shackup: No, no. Not at all. They don't really care. I never told them, so they don't know I'm a DJ.
Shackup: Eminem. I can't remember which one, Eminem or 50 Cent. I was in middle school, into hip hop. Then I started listening to Linkin Park, Slipknot...
Howie: I listened to fucking everything. Everything I could get. I think what really introduced me to music was Nirvana. I was like, "Fuck, I need an electric guitar." So I bought one. I started listening to electronic music after I got my first guitar. I got tired of that, so I found Fruityloops… fuck. I made really shitty music. [Fruityloops] can generate really good results, it depends on how you use it. But at that time, my dad didn't really allow me to use the computer. He thought it was a computer game. My parents didn't really want me to go into music at that time.
Shackup: I started to go clubbing when I was 18, and started to see a lot of gigs when I was in the UK. I went to high school there. At that period I started listening to dubstep, around 2007.
Shackup: Uh… I got kicked out of high school. I failed all my exams. So my parents thought it would be good if I just go away.
Shackup: It was good, yeah. Of course! I love the UK.
Shackup: I started practicing DJing around 2009, some guy told me I should start DJing because I like a lot of underground music.
Shackup: There's a group called Detonate, they do bass music parties. They were really, really good. I started listening to their music before going to the gigs, but I really got into it afterwards.
Shackup: I lived in a home-stay at the time. I ran out of money, so I paid my friend's parents like 10 pounds a week for everything, including food and rent. [laughs]
Shackup: Nottingham. Their parents are really Christian, they're really, really nice. I went back to the UK two years ago to visit them. I totally ran out of money, my parents didn't want to give me any money. I got accepted into university as well, doing photography, but I couldn't afford the tuition fee, so I had to come back to China.
Shackup: 2010. The first club I played at was School Bar. [laughs] That's the first time I ever played. I remember Wordy was there, he came up and talked to me. He said: "Oh, you play some really good music, but you really don't know how to mix." [laughs] I said, "OK, I'm still working on it, it's my first gig."
Shackup: Just deep dubstep, like Joker.
Howie: London. I studied sound art, contemporary art. It was weird shit, conceptual things about society. I really enjoyed it, because it trains your mind to have a purpose for doing something. The degree was one year, I stayed basically one year.
Howie: That was basically the final project for my Master's degree. Basically the reason I'm DJing is because I want my music to be heard, my dance music. But there weren't enough DJs playing that kind of music, so I had to do it myself. I didn't really enjoy DJing before, but I had to start. When I was in London I was thinking that I needed to do some kind of live show. That's not something you just do, you need to consider a methodology for putting it together. I knew some really good visual designers in London, so we figured out a way to represent my music in a visual domain. It's a whole experience. You get more engaged with the music itself. So this is the main purpose of it.
Howie: I play behind a screen, as if I'm in the screen. So I'm generating all these vibrations and these visuals. I use all the sounds to trigger visuals. I call it live cinema, it's a cinematic experience.
Shackup: I like making fun of people. People always label other people, like you play this, you play that, you dress like this or that, you're a punk kid, a hip hop kid… I just want to use these iconic items to represent myself. I hate people labeling me, I just want to represent myself in a different way, combat all the iconic stuff.
Shackup: No, but I'm learning… I'm starting to get into it.
Shackup: I don't have a particular style, but the feelings would go really deep. Sad dance music. Evil, I guess. Just deep stuff… maybe juke, footwork. Some UK bass, some new stuff. This guy New York Transit Authority from Bristol, some stuff he's producing right now… I think there's some new stuff in UK bass, kind of from dubstep, a little bit of techno, a little bit of house.
Shackup: Yeah, yeah. I do a lot of research about the guys, the kind of stuff they did before and what kind of style they're doing right now. I play some of his old classic stuff, maybe with [more recent] remixes. Basically it's all bass music: drum'n'bass, future bass. Yeah, before every single show I do a lot of research. Like for Mykki Blanco, I hung out with him and asked him what kind of stuff he's into. Every time I have a new set. I have to really enjoy myself. I can't play the same set twice.
Howie: No… the most enjoyable about DJing for me is still playing my own music, and getting a reaction from the audience. That makes it more enjoyable for me. I still like to play other people's stuff, and I don't really prepare any set. I have a pool of music, I label it with different energies. So I use energy when I want to boost, or when I want to chill out. I like the feeling of controlling people with DJing, that's the most fun to me.
Howie: Future music.
Shackup: Nothing exciting.
Shackup: There's just not many crazy people in this town. Not at all. Especially for electronic music.
Shackup: Just two kinds: one's bass, one's house/techno. It's all dance music, but for underground music, there's no one really creating anything more exciting.
Shackup: I don't know… pretentious or just boring. Not many ideas in their heads.
Howie: The scene is small. I don't know, to me I think it's moving. I wasn't here for more than a year. It's moving. It's still small, but I think it will grow. Why not?
Howie: I think Shanghai, Shanghai and Beijing… I don't really go to Shanghai that much, but there's more people partying. I don't even think the scene is better. It's a little bit bigger, but the same situation. There's no roots. Why should normal people even try to understand this music? We don't have roots here. I don't know that many [Chinese] producers, even though I'm a producer. How can anyone else know producers? There's nothing coming out of here. For rock music, probably everyone in your uni knows someone who plays guitar. But the party thing… Dada is packed every night, but there's still nothing really generated. Until you go to every uni and there's someone doing a beat in their class. I'm pushing it, I'm doing a beatmaker workshop at my uni. They learn how to produce music, but in the fucking wrong way. So I need to tell them, "You're fucking wrong, but don't listen to me, listen to yourself. You need to decide how to produce music." If everyone realizes, then these people can generate really sick music. Because there are so many good musicians here.
Shackup: Shanghai… pretty international. It has a different character from Beijing.
Shackup: Not for electronic music, I guess. [laughs] Also, I think there's not enough producers and DJs, local producers and DJs, in each city. Most of the DJs and producers here are foreigners.
Howie: I just edited [a track] for this hip hop producer in Chengdu, he has some fucking sick samples. But he's fucking lazy. I just ask him, "Man, go to Soundcloud, get a VPN, it doesn't cost you that much, and listen to some new music." His mixing isn't very good. I really want to push him because he's sick, but, I don't know. People get lazy in China. I came back and I got really lazy. When I was in the UK I had to work every day because I paid my tuition fee. When I came back I became so lazy. Everyone's telling me, "Do this commercial project, you can make some profit." I was like, "Fuck, I hate doing that." It's not promoting you to do something you really want to do, it's like everyone trying to drag you to do something else.
Howie: There are. I did stuff for pop singers, arrangements for them. Like dance arrangements. There's not a lot people who can do it, probably. I was doing that before, that's how I started raising money to go to the UK.
Howie: I don't like it… I fucking hate it. It's a waste of my time. But I need to make money.
Howie: Beijing sounds are sick. On the street, the whole soundscape is different. I don't know how to describe it. It sounds weird. You listen to all this local folk music, they play all these Chinese instruments. Or like Peking Opera kind of shit. But folk music is influenced by that shit, so it's weird. I enjoy it. It comes naturally [into my music].
Shackup: [For me it's] the personality of the people. Beijing people are really aggressive. Really rough. Everyone's angry all the time. That has a lot to do with my personal character as well.
Howie: When I was young, people were more chill. I think it's becoming more and more angry.
Shackup: The weather. Pollution. It's in the blood, I guess. They think they're so special. Especially the locals. They don't really like outsiders, I guess.
Howie: Let's talk about love.
Howie: I have a girlfriend so… I can't.
Shackup: I wish I could. I don't know why. I think most people think I'm gay. The scene is too small, I don't want to fuck around. I do, but I don't. [laughs]
Shackup: Yeah, I tried… I had my selfie in a mirror…
SmSh: What are you listening to these days that you like?